Research shows that implementing the changes in the School Milk Pilot Test program that yielded positive results in milk consumption at elementary and secondary schools would help improve children’s nutrition as well as reduce direct and indirect health-care costs by an estimated $800 million to $1.1 billion annually.

If the nation's schools adopted enhancements to school milk, children's nutrition would improve long-term and Americans would likely achieve major long-term cost savings in health care. At least that’s the results from a recently published report by Promar International, an economics consulting firm specializing in food and agricultural economic and strategic analysis.

The study was sponsored by the dairy checkoff-funded National Dairy Council and the American School Food Service Association. Researchers took the results from the School Milk Pilot Test and estimated what the impact would be if those changes in the school milk program were implemented in elementary and secondary schools across the country.

“The SMPT project demonstrated how to get kids to drink more milk in school," said Tom Gallagher, chief executive officer for Dairy Management Inc., the nonprofit organization that manages the national dairy checkoff on behalf of America's dairy producers. SMPT milk enhancements included:

  • Milk was served in convenient plastic, resealable packages in 8-, 10- and 16-ounce sizes.
  • The introduction of a third flavor (in addition to white and chocolate), such as strawberry and coffee flavors.
  • Expanded availability of milk in the school lunch line and added a la carte milk and milk vending machines.
  • Improved storage and refrigeration to ensure cold milk.

The results from the Promar study shows that making these changes in the school milk program nationwide would result in enormous benefits. For example:

  • Adopting these healthier diets would lower the risk of illness and reduce direct and indirect health care costs by an estimated $800 million to $1.1 billion (present values) annually.
  • Overall milk sales would increase 15 percent in elementary schools and 22 percent in secondary schools. That's an additional 67 million gallons of milk marketed annually through schools.
  • Overall participation in school meal programs would increase by an estimated 440,000 students in secondary schools. Another projected 2.1 million students who are already participating in school meal programs — but not taking milk as part of their meals — would become milk drinkers.
  • During their lifetime, more than 2.6 million students could reduce their risk of osteoporosis, hypertension, colorectal cancer, type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke by adopting and maintaining healthy diets — including drinking milk at school and participating in school meal programs.

"If these changes were made everywhere, childhood nutrition would improve. Kids would get more calcium through increased milk consumption," said Greg Miller, senior vice president of scientific affairs for the National Dairy Council. "Currently, only 12 percent of female teens and 30 percent of male teens consume the recommended daily servings of dairy foods. Studies show that kids who drink milk with their school lunch are better nourished for that meal, as well as throughout the day. This is vital to overall children's health, especially in light of the growing epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity,” explains Miller.

This is good news for parents and educators alike. According to the American School Food Service Association, the nation's leading authority on school nutrition, school meal participation has been stagnant for more than five years. Therefore, a nearly 5 percent increase in the average daily participation by secondary students during the SMPT study is significant from both a nutritional and a performance standpoint, ASFSA officials said.

"By increasing the average dairy participation in school meal programs and including an enhanced milk product, more kids will get more nutritious foods," Miller said. "Children who are better nourished perform better in

school." Additionally, student participation levels in school meal programs positively affect a school district's ability to gain additional funding for feeding programs — monies that could offset potential costs associated with providing an enhanced milk product.

With credible, sound data supplied by the SMPT and the Promar study, national, state and regional dairy council representatives are actively spreading the word to the people and organizations that can make a difference. Target audiences includes milk processors, leading health and nutrition organizations, educators, and public officials charged with helping improve kids' nutrition and physical fitness through schools.

Help spread the word

"We need every dairy producer to help spread the word about milk's role as part of the solution to childhood nutrition," Gallagher said. "Producers should send a letter to their local school boards urging them to make a very simple change on kids' behalf."

If you would like to help spread the word you can send an e-mail request to receive an electronic copy of a sample school board letter and fact sheet highlighting SMPT results. Send your e-mail requests to: schoolmilkletter@rosedmi.com